Aquidneck Island Blows Off Wind

By FRANK CARINI

Aquidneck Island has plenty of wind to make renewable energy, but, unfortunately, it also produces a lot of hot air.

Newport officials recently became the latest wind bags to add to the island’s growing cover of hot air. City Council and Planning Board members didn’t want the Bruce Long-led Middletown Town Council to be the only ones sounding the alarm about the dangers of wind turbines. These three-armed beasts, they fear, will put the health of neighbors at risk, deafen the island’s inhabitants, and ruin the fossil fuel-inspired views of telephone poles, power lines, blinking neon signs and traffic congestion.

And don’t mention gearboxes. They’re scared to death all wind turbines come with one of these faulty contraptions that will throw them all off a fiscal cliff.

To avoid the many pitfalls of renewable energy, the Newport City Council earlier this month quickly and quietly voted to ban wind turbines from most of the city. The Planning Board had recommended banning all shapes and sizes of these spinning devices that don’t belch pollution from 80 percent of the city. The fearful City Council, however, thought 91 percent was a far safer number.

They were particularly concerned about property owners erecting small wind turbines to produce electricity anywhere in the city’s historic sections. Council members must consider power lines that connect the old homes in these neighborhoods to utility poles historic. Is the SUV parked in the driveway considered historic?

The council also made sure the entire southern portion of Newport defined by Ocean Drive couldn’t be infiltrated by wind turbines. After all, earlier this year a privately funded initiative removed 36 overhead utility poles along Ocean Drive by burying nearly a mile of power line. Out of sight, out of mind. My electricity comes from magic produced far beneath the surface.

As for the private individual who would like to mount a small wind turbine to his or her home, Newport officials don’t believe you have the right to produce your own electricity. But a roof-mounted DISH Network satellite is OK.

The Middletown Town Council passed an ordinance in mid-September that restricts wind turbines to farms, limits their height to 120 feet, tolerates zero shadow flicker and caps the noise they are allowed to make at 30 decibels. On the scale of environmental loudness, 30 dB comes immediately after 0 dB. A normal conversation is between 60 and 65 dB.

But in the words of council member Long, wind turbines need to be overly restricted to protect “public health and risk.” He explained that, “The decision we make must be ones that protect the people from their neighbors, not to protect people from themselves. The only way to do that is to put in strict guidelines.”

A few months later, Newport Mayor Henry Winthrop closed the council’s meeting that severely restricted wind turbines — a meeting that featured little discussion about the need for such an over-the-top ordinance — by blustering, “I don’t expect to see many people lining up outside to secure permits to build wind turbines.”

Just what Aquidneck Island needed from its alleged leadership — more hot air. Perhaps one day we will replace boastful talk with meaningful discussion.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.